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Pointillism made simple with Photoshop's Dissolve blending mode

Added on Tuesday 2nd of August 2011 05:50 am EST

Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5
Operating System:
Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

If you have a desire to create fine art but don’t have the time or the talent, don’t worry. We’ll show you how to create pointillism drawings with the Dissolve blending mode.

Artists have long used pen and ink as a medium of choice for creating illustrations. Pen and ink first appeared as early as the 6th century. It continued to gain in popularity until its golden age in the late 19th century when it was transformed from a craft to a highly developed art form. The pen and ink style appeared everywhere, but nowhere more patently than in book illustrations. Much experimentation was done with the technique, especially with ways to produce highlights and shadows, called modulation. One such technique that evolved is what has come to be known as pointillism.
Rather than using a series of lines to achieve the impression of modulation, pointillism uses a series of dots. Each dot is individually drawn. When done by hand, even a simple drawing can take a considerable amount of time to complete, change, and correct. However, if you use Photoshop’s Dissolve blending mode, as shown in Figure A, the technique is quick, easy to change, and easy to correct.


Step 1: Set up your drawing
To begin, the first thing you must do is set up your drawing. Do this either from scratch or based on a reference image, such as a sketch or photo. For our example, we’ll use a reference photo of an old crock jar, which is simple in form and, therefore, ideal for our demonstration. To follow along using our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file crockjar.jpg.
Next, launch Photoshop, open the file, as shown in Figure B, and unlock the Background layer. We’ll make our drawing on a layer above our reference photo. To do so, create a new layer in the Layers panel by clicking the Create A New Layer button, and name the new layer Crock Jar.



Step2: Set the layer’s blending mode and brush flow
Next, select Dissolve from the Blend Mode pop-up menu on the Layers panel, as shown in Figure C. If you’re unfamiliar with the Dissolve blending mode, take a moment to try out a few strokes. First, select the Black swatch from the Swatches panel. Now, select the Brush tool from the Tools panel, select the Soft Round 65 Pixels brush tip from the Brush Preset picker on the tool options bar, and drag out a few strokes, as shown in Figure D.
You’ll notice that, although the strokes have a grainy, dry spattered look to them, they’re too solid for the pointillism effect. However, change the Flow pop-up menu on the tool options bar to about 10%, and they look perfect, as shown in Figure E.





Step 3: Create selection paths
Next, as is always good practice, we must plan out our drawing. Because pointillism is about defining shapes with modulation rather than with lines, we must break up our subject into large areas of similar tonality, as demonstrated in Figure F. We can then select and broadly paint each area and apply the necessary details.


To select an area, we’ll first create and save a path. Then, we’ll load the path as a selection. The lower section of the crock jar is a good place to begin. Select the Pen tool from the Tools panel, making sure the Paths button is selected on the tool options bar, and draw a closed path defining the area on the crock jar just under the rim, as shown in Figure G. Save the path by choosing Save Path from the Paths panel’s pop-up menu, and name it Lower Section. Next, create a new path, save it, and name it Mid Section. Do the same for the Upper Section, the Rim, and the Interior.



Step 4: Paint the Lower section
Now that we’ve created a path for each area in our d...


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